There’s a freedom that many teens feel when they get their driver’s license. It is a feeling of independence and in most cases invincibility. It is important for teens to remember, however, that this new privilege of driving also comes with important responsibilities. In an ideal society, teens would wait until they are of legal age to consume alcohol before having their first drink. Unfortunately, peer pressures and outside influencers abound, meaning many teens will have their first drink while still in high school. Teen drivers must be aware of how alcohol consumption, as well as drug use, can impact their ability to drive.
How Alcohol Consumption Impairs Driving
In most states, the law prohibits driving for all adults with a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of .08% or higher. The law is much stricter for teens, however. In all 50 United States, it is illegal for any person under the age of twenty-one to drive after consuming any alcohol whatsoever. In order to understand the law, it is important to understand how alcohol consumption impairs a person’s ability to drive a vehicle. Alcohol is a depressant drug, which means that consumption of alcohol can slow down the central nervous system. The brain is an important part of the central nervous system and it doesn’t take long for alcohol to enter the brain once drinking has begun. The part of the brain that controls thinking and judgment decisions is known as the cerebrum. When the effect of the alcohol reaches the cerebrum, the brain is less able to process sensible decision making. This is why many people refer to drinking alcohol as a way to lower inhibitions. Alcohol influence in the cerebrum causes people to make riskier decisions. It also has a negative effect on vision, particularly nighttime vision. In cases where a person consumes a large amount of alcohol, particularly in binge drinking, the part of the brain known as the cerebellum becomes impacted. The cerebellum in in charge of muscle function. Once alcohol reaches the cerebellum, the body’s reflex reaction becomes slowed, making the person less able to respond quickly in a moment of danger. The body’s ability to balance, as well as hand-eye coordination, and stability are also negatively impacted when alcohol reaches the cerebellum. More so, general vision becomes blurred, the person experiences a loss of depth perception, and peripheral vision becomes extremely blurry. If a person is driving under this kind of alcohol influence, he/she would not be able to react quick enough should a car in front of them break suddenly or an object roll across the road. The driver may not even be aware of how closely he/she is driving in relation to the surrounding cars, or be able to even drive in a straight line.
On an average weekend, a car-crash is responsible for the death of one teen every hour. In over 45% of those crashes, alcohol is involved. Overall, motor vehicle crashes cause the deaths of over 35% of people aged 16-20. Of that percentage, it is estimated that 36.1% are due to alcohol involvement. Every year, more than 28,000 people lose their lives due to alcohol or drug related crashes.
It has been reported that one out of every ten high school students drink and drive. That number has gone down from statistics in the past. Since 1991, that number has decreased by over 51%. Even so, according to the CDC, high school students drink and drive approximately 2.4 million times each month. Drivers under the age of 21 are 17 times more likely to experience a fatal car crash when his/her BAC is .08% than when driving with no alcohol in his/her system.
Some of the biggest factors that aid in preventing teens from drinking and driving include parental monitoring, zero tolerance laws, restrictions on the legal drinking age, and graduated driver licenses. All of these factors are responsible for keeping teens safe on the road. Minimum Legal Drinking Age (MLDA) laws are uniform throughout the entire United States of America. Merchants have a legal obligation to prohibit the sale of alcohol to anyone under the age of 21. The increase in retailer compliance checks may be one of the contributing reasons to the downward shift in the number of teenage drinkers. Every state also enforces strict zero tolerance policies. This means that drivers under the age of 21 that are caught with any amount of alcohol in their systems face serious penalties. New drivers do not get the privileges of a full license when they first pass their drivers tests. The graduated driving license (GDL) programs allow for drivers to gain privileges with experience. Each state has some form of a GDL program but the specifics vary. Commonly, under the GDL, new drivers are restricted from driving past a certain time and are limited in the number of passengers they can transport. Finally, parental monitoring can be one of the greatest means of prevention. Parent-teen driving agreements and also an enforcement of driving privelage plan can help reduce the risk of teens drinking and driving.
By Ted Burgess